Lizzie (2018)
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Lizzie (2018)

A form of entertainment that remains a perennial fan favorite is the true crime drama. It is a hybrid drama consisting of gritty crimes, salacious situations and the distinct tinge of with any story based on actual events the caveat pertains to take the accuracy of the screenplay with a sizable grain of salt. In the annals of infamous American crimes, the murder of Andrew (Jamey Sheridan) and Abby Borden (Fiona Shaw) is among the most notorious. It took place in a small town in Massachusetts in 1892, This prominent man and his second wife were murdered, brutally hacked to death with a hand-held ax. Charged with the heinous act was the Borden’s youngest daughter. Elizabeth, better known as Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny). This tale exploring an extremely dysfunctional family has become deeply ingrained in the darkest recesses of the American psyche infiltrating every possible form of entertainment. True crime has a long and diverse history that consolidated as a distinct genre in the late nineteenth century with the dreadful penny magazines covering cases such as Jack the Ripper. People have always held a fascination for humanity’s penchant for murder, torture and a plethora of unspeakable acts. For a young woman of gentile upbringing to hack her parents to death was so completely beyond the nightmares of the public that the case shocked and terrified the community spreading out to the nation. Typical of officially unsolved, or at least not officially proven, is the storyteller is free to infuse their narrative with liberal use of conjecture — this most recent incarnation of the story presented by director, Craig William Macneill utilizing a script by Bryce Kass. Both are relatively new to their respective means of artistic expression. Still, they have also begun to build reputations in the independent film festival circuit. Despite some notable departure from the facts, the collective talents of these craftsmen were able to deliver an entertaining, albeit flawed take on a well-traveled story.

A story of this nature typically can be presented best in either a first-person perspective or from a secondary point of view; the filmmakers selected a personal approach although with a unique take. In most interpretations of the invents preceding the dual murders the household maid is on the periphery. Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), was newly hired by Mrs. Borden and immediately informed that henceforth she will respond only to the name ‘Maggie.’ This was a common practice of the time demeaning the humanity of the Irish by denying them their identity. Bridget was provided with a modest room and given her regular responsibilities. Added to her chores was sexual abuse by the head of the household. The continued molestation became known to Lizzie. As the youngest Lizzie lived in the shadow of her older sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), was not showed with affection by their father, he was emotionally incapable of paternal connections of any sort. The most striking unique spin introduced in this version was the development of an intimate relationship between Lizzie and Elizabeth. Superficially, the rationale for this plot development may appear to be mostly for puerile excitation. A lesbian relationship. Particularly in such a conservative and repressed society. This move opened the narrative to a deeper consideration of motivation for the patricide.

The traditional motivation attributed to Lizzie’s committing the crimes was the environment of persistent, pervasive emotional abuse by her father. Lizzie was brought to the breaking point manifesting in the infamous result. Under the details in this scenario, Lizzie was motivated by an additional, deep-seated psychological stressor, the continued rape of the woman she loved. Several other versions depict Emma as closer to Lizzie, some even as a co-conspirator. The maid is often shown as a neutral bystander, a silent witness to the events. This script flips the fundamental levels of involvement giving Emma minimal screen time while using Elizabeth as the primary point of view character. Undoubtedly, some portion of the decision to include this assumption was the more inclusive acceptance of LGBTQ subject matter in mainstream entertainment. This is not the first time that such a relationship was supposed. In the 1984 novel, ‘Lizzie’ by Ed McBain, the author forwarded this hypothesis, but it remained in the minority. Still, in the late nineteenth century, same-gender attraction might be considered more shameful than murder and possible would not have been referenced in popular accounts. It must be considered the overwhelming influence of the prevailing puritanical influences; this unusual double standard persists in such organizations as the MPAA. They are more likely to assign a more restrictive rating, ‘R’ or even ‘NC-17’ for sexual content than extremely gory and violent content. The ‘PG-13’ rating was devised for this reason. The actual violent murders occur within a mere few frames while lingering full shots of Ms. Sevigny and Ms. Stewart completely naked are featured.

Part of the reason this treatment of the crime worked as well as it did was the sexual motivation was not presented as the primary motivation. In a crime of passion, which this certainly qualifies, is rarely simple. Sure, one moment may incite lethal violence, but more often it is a compilation of numerous factors. If the filmmakers had chosen to concentrate on the sexually charged components completely, it would have greatly diminished the realism and entertainment value. Among the commonplace motivations is a criminal favorite, greed. Andrew’s brother, John (Denis O’Hare), intended on assuming control of the fortune current controlled solely by Andrew. The estate was substantial, and there were suspicions that Abby married for the money. A foundation of relative realism is extended with some little lot devices that reinforce the fundamental social stratification. Among polite, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, the Irish Catholics were barely seen as fully human. They were perpetually relegated to a lower caste. Besides the dehumanization of being stripped of their name, the Irish were denied such basic rights as a proper education. Bridget was illiterate, although she was an intelligent young woman. The bond between Lizzie and Bridget began organically. Sensing a kindred spirit, Lizzie was drawn to the new servant and befriended quickly befriended here. Lizzie began to teach Bridget how to read and write, a socially taboo action that became a gateway to greater intimacy.

It has been mentioned that this movie has a much better cast than deserved. While the assessment of the talented cast is correct the remark as it pertains to the film’s merit is misplaced. The movie is admittedly flawed, not so much in a lack of cinematic competence but the distinct feeling of untapped potential, a form of anti-synergism. One trend seen in Hollywood, particularly by the upper echelon of actors and filmmakers, is to take a break from them. mega-budgeted blockbusters and hone their talents on smaller projects. Typically, they turn independent films the onus less on financial return and more on expanding the control of their craft, for Ms. Sevigny, her career has been rooted in this paradigm from its beginnings. Her best work is undoubtedly in character-driven rolls that explore the darker recesses of the human psyche; an actor who thrives on an intense challenge. For any serious cinephile, it has been a genuine pleasure to follow the maturation of Ms. Stewart’s career. Her early roles om the YA franchise ‘Twilight.’ She came across as overly reserved and ill-suited to the requisite press yours. She has exhibited tremendous professional growth, emerging as one of the most significant actors of her generation.

Posted   12/05/2018

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